A self-aware misnomer if there ever was one, the international music festival really should rename itself to "Pop" Montreal.
Since its inception in 2002, the Pop Montreal International Music Festival has grown exponentially, now showcasing over 600 artists in the span of 5 days. With headlining acts ranging from the electronic-duo Chromeo to the saxophone-heavy, big-beat-tossing-and-simultaneously yelping tUnE-YarDs to the Montreal rock sweethearts Karkwa, "pop" is hardly apropos.
Semantics aside, the festival itself was an experience few can rival. It all began on Wednesday, September 21st.
Day 1 (Wednesday) - Japandroids
It started at the Divan Orange with Japandroids. The Divan Orange – a bar just big enough to support an adequate mosh pit – was also just small enough to create the most intimate grunge experience possible. After playing a handful of new songs, Japandroids played the majority of their debut album Post-Nothing with unparalleled expertise and unparalleled energy; combined with screams of the fans, absolutely nothing on this planet could ever be louder than the opening chords of "Young Hearts Spark Fire" . Really, no two men should ever be able to make that much noise, but the crowd was certainly glad that they did. After a few punches to the face and a fair bit of internal bleeding, any attendee will agree that seeing Japandroids live (in a small venue) is one of the more invigorating concert experiences possible.
The bruised ribs the next morning were the perfect encapsulation of the Pop Montreal Experience.
Day 2 (Thursday) - Arcade Fire/Karkwa
With the gritty charm of the Divan Orange, Pop Montreal doesn't only contrast itself through its musical diversity, but through the relative grandeur of its venues. Thursday night consisted of the free Arcade Fire/Karkwa concert in the grandiose Quartier des Spectacles in downtown Montreal. Here, tens of thousands attendees flooded in to catch a glimpse and an earful of their hometown heroes. Montreal sweethearts (and 2010 Polaris Prize winners) Karkwa put on a remarkable live set that consisted of guitar riffs and vocals that didn't only induce head-bobbing and hand-jiving, but total cathartic release as well – even for the anglophones who most likely had little idea of what frontman Louis-Jean Cormier was actually singing about.
Then there was Arcade Fire.
By virtue of being in their home town of Montreal, Quebec, and by virtue of just having won the 2011 Polaris Music Prize with The Suburbs (a Grammy too, but that's old news), Arcade Fire had not an obligation, but a genuine desire to put on a stellar show. The shivers induced during Win Butler's one-man rendition of "The Suburbs (Continued) were rivalled only by the total crowd unity during the anthemic "Wake Up" and the spark in everyone's souls upon hearing the opening bass of "Rebellion (Lies)". His hair swooped perfectly to one side, Win Butler's sang not one note out of tune; Régine Chassagne's "Haiti" and "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" were likewise immaculate. Even Will Butler's dancing, while more hyperbolic than usual, made Arcade Fire's set a flawless one – an unforgettable one.
The chills induced by "The Suburbs (Continued)" were the perfect encapsulation of the Pop Montreal experience.
Day 3 (Friday) - tUnE-YarDs
A day passed and after Arcade Fire, and I only had it in me to go to one more show. It was tUnE-YarDs. Officially speaking, it was a seated venue, but that quickly changed with Merrill Garbus's opening screams.
Armed with a loop machine, some drums, a few folks on saxophone, and a guitarist, Merrill Garbus of tUnE-YarDs was to the ears what lemonade is to the taste buds. She even dabbled in the often shaky waters of experimental on-stage audience-participation. Taking individuals onto the stage and having them add a layer to her simple drum loop, tUnE-YarDs was able to create a unique song that will only ever be heard once, thus adding a layer of intimacy to an already magnificent show. Of course, tUnE-YarDs also played most of the acclaimed album W H O K I L L. In fact, the song "Gangsta" alone was worth the ticket price, the trek, the over-priced drinks and the uncomfortable standing positions (most were in between seats, after all). With "Gangsta", the audience became a whole different beast. Dance moves ranged from the electric slide to the little kicks (refer to Elaine Benes from Seinfeld) to the worm. Yes, the worm. Again, that entire night went something like this:
Losing it to "Gangsta" was the perfect encapsulation of the Pop Montreal experience.
It was these best possible bruised ribs, these most memorable shivers, and these most ridiculous dance moves – they were just a few things that a mere three days at Pop Montreal provided.
Thank you, Pop Montreal.